-- Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, and Peter McRobbie
Four out of five stars
If you come across another review of "The Visit," and you can tell it’s going to be a negative one, stop reading it. It’s likely written by someone who just wants to pile on M. Night Shyamalan who, to be fair, hasn’t made a remotely interesting movie in over a decade. There’s no need to go over his commercial and critical failures since, but he’s undoubtedly paid a heavy price for setting the bar so high with "The Sixth Sense." However, I never stopped believing in his ability.
And I’m here to tell you: The Shyamalan bashing stops with "The Visit."
Told in the tired, but sometimes effective, found-footage format, budding teen filmmaker Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her hip-hop-loving 12-year-old brother, Tyler, (Ed Oxenbould) are about to spend a week with their grandparents, whom they’ve never met because their mom (Kathryn Hahn) had a fight with them when she was 19 and hasn’t spoken to since. Now, though, mom’s parents have found her, with some online help, and ask if they can get to know their grandkids.
Becca and Tyler are up for it -- seems five years ago, their dad left their mom, and them, for another woman. The kids love the idea of allowing their mother to have some time alone with her boyfriend while trying, perhaps, to mend the relationship between their grandparents and parent. Sounds innocent enough, right?
Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) are unusually quiet and just a bit weird. Still, they seem like what you might expect from older people who live on a farm with no cell phone reception. Pop Pop tells the kids they’re not allowed out of their room after 9:30 p.m. because, being old folks, they go to bed early.
But soon, Becca can’t restrain herself from sneaking downstairs to grab some of Nana’s delicious homemade cookies. That’s when she notices Nana walking across the room and projectile-vomiting every few steps -- which, of course, sends Becca racing back to her bedroom. The next day, Pop Pop explains Nana’s old, and old people get sick, though we soon discover Pop Pop’s not without his own creepy set of gross idiosyncrasies. And that’s being nice.
With "The Visit," Shyamalan has delivered a delicious horror gem so intense that you may accidentally rip the armrests off your seat from clenching them so hard. It’s an audacious piece of horror writing, laced with hilarious scene-stealing dialogue for young Oxenbould, who’s as skilled as they come at such a young age. Equally up to her task is DeJonge who, like Oxenbould, is an Australian doing an impressive job hiding her accent. Then there’s the beautifully terrifying Deanna Dunagan as Nana. She’s so great she practically pops off the screen as if she were the only character shot in 3D in a 2D film, helped by McRobbie’s even-keeled but disturbing performance as Pop Pop.
Welcome back, M. Night.